Hampstead and Kilburn Green candidate: ‘I grew up in a community like the Amish’

Dr Rebecca Johnson. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Dr Rebecca Johnson. Picture: Nigel Sutton. - Credit: Nigel Sutton

To conclude our series of interviews with parliamentary candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn on May 7, politics reporter Tim Lamden talks to the Green Party’s contender.

Dr Rebecca Johnson is an internationally-recognised expert on nuclear disarmament with an extraordinary childhood story.

For the first seven years of her life, the 60-year-old grew up in an intensely insular Hutterite community in the US states of North Dakota and Pennsylvania, having moved to the US from Shropshire with her parents as a baby.

The Hutterites, who still inhabit parts of Western Canada and the upper Great Plains of the USA, are an ethno-religious group, much like the Amish.

Dr Johnson said: “My father had joined a community which believed in worshipping god with your hands. What that meant was we lived a simple life in which we worked hard for the community.

“When you joined, you gave everything you had and then the community had its own internal ways of resolving issues of need and conflict.

“We grew up working on the farm. You grew your own food and made your own clothes.”

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A power struggle within the community began to emerge between those who wished to remain connected to mainstream society, like Dr Johnson’s parents, and those who wanted to become more closed and puritanical.

Those who objected to the more oppressive influences began disappearing.

Dr Johnson’s parents were banished to Ohio for a long period and many of her siblings and classmates went missing - locked up in rooms for weeks at a time.

“My brothers and sisters were coming back from school with Elvis and ideas,” said Dr Johnson. “The community didn’t like that.”

In 1961, Dr Johnson’s parents and her seven siblings left the community and integrated back into mainstream society.

The following year they returned to the UK and settled in Sussex.

In 1973, Dr Johnson enrolled at the University of Bristol and eventually graduated with a degree in philosophy and politics.

She later undertook a masters in international relations of the Far East at SOAS, University of London, and completed a PhD in international relations at the London School of Economics in 2004.

Dr Johnson has been a Green activist for decades, living in Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp for five years in the 1980s and later working as nuclear issues coordinator for Greenpeace International.

She is founder of the Acronym Institute and has worked as a consultant to the United Nations (UN), the European Parliament and countless non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Dr Johnson, who lives in Hackney and has been with her partner Helen for eight years, said she felt compelled to stand for the Greens for the first time this year.

“I think British politics is broken and if we don’t present alternatives for the future, we will break British society,” she said.

“I think it will be a close three-way in Hampstead and Kilburn this time but I think the three parties contending will be Labour, Tory and Green.

“I believe that Green policies across the board are about building a sustainable future that is not only about the environment.

“It affects jobs, housing, transport and sustainability in energy, which in turn affects industry and businesses.

“Talking about the environment is talking about the sustainability of future generations, so it affects everything.”